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I enjoyed this unusual fantasy set during World War I - a mix between a boarding school story and shapechangers.

Eleanore Jones was left in to a foundling home in London. When she started hearing voices and claiming that gemstones were singing, she was consigned to an institution for mental disorder, and given the treatments of the day. The onset of the war sees her evacuated to a coastal village school, where she discovers why she is different and what the voices she has learnt to ignore actually mean. For Elanore is of a line of shapechanging dragons, called Drakon, and the few that are left recognise one another....

Lora, now a charity student at a boarding school for upper-crust young ladies, with bombed London behind her, takes time to settle. Jesse, a young coachman who is thought to be simple, knows why his touch resonates with Lora, why she finds him fascinating, but the school edicts forbid them to meet. This school is located in a castle on an island, and Lora's cold tower room is the first privacy she's had. The other girls snobbishly disdain her, the lessons are difficult, but a piano suddenly brings out music that Lora has never been taught to play, and she gets noticed by young Lord Armand, whose family is paying her scholarship.

I found many similarities with 'Dragonsinger' by Anne McCaffrey, another young adult tale about music, dragons and boarding school. However this girl literally is a dragon, hidden inside her like Ursula LeGuin's 'Tehanu' and ready to fly when she matures. Even without the dragon aspect the quality of writing and interesting settings would have kept me reading. I did think that the wealthy girls must have been very insecure when their breeding and training would have led them to talk around Lora or make allowances rather than scorn her viciously. But she did not help herself by insulting them as soon as she met them.

The echoes of zeppelin-dropped bombs drifting up the Channel and Armand's older brother having signed up are a constant background reminder of the times, but life at school is removed from the war. When the action finally gets going however, the sequence where Lora, unskilled at her new abilities, tries to attack two zeppelins while changing from girl to smoke to dragon without any control, is well worth the wait. Young adult girls will love THE SWEETEST DARK and its follow-up, 'The Deepest Night' in which Lora and Armand cross the Channel and take the war to the enemy.
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on 25 April 2013
Caroline for [...]
Copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

The first thing that drew my attention to The Sweetest Dark was the stunning cover. A beautiful girl in a gorgeous dress is a common occurrence in the YA book cover world. But in this incidence, it was the mysterious sweep of smoke, appearing to form the dress itself, which added an intriguing and original element to the cover, tempting me to investigate the synopsis.

While I found the earlier part of Lora's life interesting, providing essential background to her strength of character and realism to the world building- how would society react to a sensitive child with an ambiguous past with unusual abilities and no social filter? -It wasn't until Lora arrived at Iverson collage, with its impressive façade, secret passages, snobbish inhabitants and of course two very different, but equally compelling boys, that I truly got sucked in to the story.

Don't be mistaken to believing that this is another frustrating love triangle to survive (I have complicated love-hate feelings toward s love triangles), there is no battle between "Team Jesse" and "Team Armand" to capture the fair maidens heart. It is very clear from the start where Lora's affections lie. However, both Jesse, the golden haired, selfless, self assured and wise, groundskeeper, and snarky Lord Armand, who's contrasting darkness isn't only due to his hair color, have equally important roles to play in Lora's acceptance of her true nature and her other than normal life.

I really enjoyed the early 20th century setting. Not only did the time period became even more significant as the story unfolded, but I also found it really interesting to explore the additional challenges a non-contemporary setting provided. Lora has to hide her unusual abilities and fledgling relationship from everyone while coming to terms with the life altering discovery of her true nature and she has to do so in an environment divided by social class and gender inequality, on the cusp of medical advances in psychiatry, while the ominous cloud of WWI provides an underlying tension.

Abe's writing is beautiful. Lyrical prose and lush descriptions combined with the characters' unique sensory perspective combine together to create an absorbing world. The romance was sweet and intense. While I will happily read steamy, descriptive adult scenes, I also love when an author has the ability wrap me so entirely within a romance, that they are able to induce exquisite, butterfly in stomach, heart racing tension from a simple brush of fingertips .

Verdict: Once caught in it's clutches, I found myself racing through the pages of The Sweetest Dark and as soon as I had finished I found myself online investigating the sequel. Scheduled for publication in August, The Deepest Night is high up on my wish list.
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on 6 April 2013
*Official rating 3.5 - wanted to give it 4 but there were a few issues I had with it

The main thing that attracted me to this book was the cover, it is absolutely beautiful and now that I have read it I love how the smokey dress effect links in with the plot. I'm not normally a fan of books set in a historical setting but I know quite a bit about the WW1 so for once a book set in this time period intrigued me as there were paranormal elements.

I liked the originality of the story and how the author picked on different paranormal species. As well as this it was one I would have believed to normally be aimed at guys so it was a nice twist to take dragons and turn them into a book girls would love.

The romance in this book was the main thing I liked. It was developed well and consistent throughout, I may have liked a little more passion but it was in keeping with the time period so may have looked slightly odd if the author had. Jesse was definitely my favourite character and I fell in love with his personality. I was a bit colder towards Armand but by the end I had grown to like him too.

As well as this for once I actually liked the fact that Lora is an orphan. Generally if I read anything like this in description it turns me straight off a book as I find them full of cliches and the same stereotypical drama. The Sweetest Dark however did none of this and I thought that Shana Abe did an excellent job of creating an interesting character that doesn't use their past as a way to create sympathy by bringing it up every second. I fell in love with Lora because of her actions and quick wit not because she whined about her past and pitied herself.

There were a few things that I didn't like though. For one, the writing at times was quite jumpy and moved from one scene to the next abruptly with the use of an asterisk rather than the author filling in what happens during the blank moments. I can handle this a few times in a book but sometimes there was only 2/3 paragraphs in between and at times it felt like the author didn't know how to link up sections with detail so resorted to missing it out altogether. As well as this at random points in the book a few letters were used as chapters. Although they are cleared up towards the end and I understood at that point, while reading them they became increasingly annoying as I had no idea who was meant to be reading/writing them, who they were for, or what they signified. This added to the jumpy nature of the book and broke up the flow.

Overall though The Sweetest Dark was an enjoyable read, and I liked how the action picked up towards the end. It's a book that makes you fall in love with the characters and I'm glad I have received the sequel via NetGalley too so I can start it straight away.
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on 16 March 2014
Shana Abe is a gifted story teller.

This tale was wonderfully woven together to give you a tale about Drakons on which you have never read before.

She takes you on an effortless journey, which will make you cry, and show you true love.

A book to be recommended, and re-read time and time again.
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